For Louis Lopez, sports have been an important part of his life since childhood. The South Side native recalls fondly the days he spent practicing football and basketball, which he said taught him self-confidence and the importance of a hard work ethic.
Now, as the YMCA of Greater San Antonio’s new president and CEO, Lopez hopes to instill these principles into the children and athletes across the city who utilize “the Y,” and into the staff he is responsible for leading. As the local YMCA’s first Hispanic CEO, Lopez hopes his unique perspective and his focus on diversity and equity will help him accomplish that.
“My parents worked really hard to try to provide for us and show us the best life possible,” Lopez said. “We learned hard work and respect and a lot of culture; we have big family roots — a lot of family here in San Antonio.”
The youngest of four boys, Lopez said having three older brothers was often a challenge, but it was one he really enjoyed. While his brothers went on to graduate from Burbank High School, Lopez went to Holy Cross High School instead.
“Playing basketball gave me an opportunity to meet a lot of people around the city,” Lopez recalls of his high school years. “I played basketball and football, but basketball was probably the one I leaned into more and enjoyed a little bit more.”
After graduating from Holy Cross in 1993, Lopez began his career with the YMCA as a summer employee. He helped coach sports leagues and camps at the Southwestern Bell YMCA, which has since been decommissioned.
At the age of 25, Lopez got his first full-time role at the YMCA as a youth sports director. In this role, he helped organize team sports and sports camps for kids across San Antonio.
“Having the opportunity to lead a fairly big sports program in a community that I was so close to was exciting for me,” Lopez said. “This type of community work was really something that … got me to really love the Y and what we did.”
Lopez continued to work at the Y, moving up positions every few years. During this time, he and his wife Sandra were also raising their three children, Lopez noted.
In 2003, after receiving encouragement from Baron Herdelin-Doherty, the then-president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio, Lopez returned to college, he said, despite the fact he would be an older student. He worked his way through college and graduated at the age of 34 from Waylon Baptist University-San Antonio.
“My positions with the Y have evolved,” Lopez said of his 23-year career. “I went from a youth sports director to an associate executive director of one of our branches, to an executive director of one of our branches. Then I went on to be a group executive director — so I oversaw more than one branch — and then my role grew into what was called a district vice president, which meant I oversaw a geographic region. From there, my role grew to vice president of operations for this region.”
Lopez and his family had been living in Austin for the past four years while he was vice president of operations for the region, he said, but are in the process of moving back to San Antonio. He added that he always knew he wanted to come back home, and hopes to be a good leader to his team.
As president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio, Lopez said he wants to institute a new strategic plan that will help the Y continue to be an organization that focuses on people first.
“I grew up in a community that was mostly Latino. I was the first to graduate college in my family. I’m the first Latino president of this organization, and that’s amazing — so I want to ensure we’re being equitable for everyone. That will always be high on my priority list.”
Lopez added that the reason the YMCA has been successful in San Antonio is because its staff has always been open to change and to evolving where needed. He pointed to the Thousand Oaks Family YMCA’s recent addition of 10 renewed pickleball courts as an example of how the Y continues to try to evolve here.
“We’ve been able to evolve with the needs of the community,” he said. “I want to continue to make sure we’re growing with the people and the community.”